I had two Muslim roommates when I was in college. They were the nicest guys.
One was in computer science and the other decided to go into religious studies. We played computer games together. They threw the best party I ever went to as part of the fraternity they were pledging for during my time living with them.
I remember conducting an experiment with one of them to see if one of us was more likely to get followed in a store after watching a documentary about discrimination for a class we took together. The results were inconclusive that day, which surprised us.
I also remember watching him eat Skittles as if it was the first time, and it turned out that it might as well have been. He had this look of pleasure as he ate each one, and he explained it was because they no longer used animal-based gelatin, which prevented him from eating them before.
Days after 9/11, I remember having a conversation with another Muslim friend about how no one would sit near her on the El that day. I didn’t understand right away what she was saying until I saw the anguish on her face. People were afraid of her because she had dark skin and wore a hijab.
She was great to hang out with, too. Last I heard, she became a paralegal.
I have non-Muslim Indian friends, some of them who are Christian. We’ve played ping-pong or foosball at the day job together, we’ve danced together, we’ve attended weddings together, and we’ve even done real work together.
I am aware that the untrained eye would lump all of these people together under the category “terrorist”.
Each time I see a terrorist attack has been successfully carried out in the world, there are two groups of people I feel for.
I worry about the victims and their families. My heart goes out to them. I can’t imagine the feeling of loss, sadness, and anger they must be feeling in the aftermath.
But I also spend time worrying about my friends getting hurt or killed by idiots who feel the need to “send them back to where they came from” or otherwise treat them as if they were the enemy.
These are real people. They’re Americans. “Where they came from” is just as likely to be a suburb of Chicago as it is the Middle East.
I see a lot of fear-based posts online by friends and family arguing that you can’t tell the difference between a radical Muslim and a peaceful one and so therefore all of them should be banished from the country, or rounded up and killed, or similar rhetoric that sounds like they have no problem with domestic terrorism when they are the ones conducting it. I see similar talk coming from some prominent politicians who seem to feel that the only part of America they need to worry about is the lighter-skinned part, and so they set an example for others to follow.
They worry about our way of life being under threat but have no problem throwing out life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when it comes to those who look different. We cherish our tradition of religious liberty, just so long as it’s Christian.
They worry about Da’esh/ISIS/ISIL/IS destroying this country, but then they turn around and ensure the principles that make this country great in the first place are destroyed first. Giving in to fear, they actively participate in handing Da’esh their victory.
And people like my friends are put at risk as a result.
So while I am processing what happened in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad, I am worrying about the safety of my friends.
Please don’t give in to fear. Real people with real families and real lives are put at risk when someone with enough fear, anger, ignorance, and hate gets the wrong message.